Home' Ausmarine : December 2009 Contents A quota system in fisheries anywhere is tough, but if as a fisher
you don't quite understand why it is a fiasco then someone
needs to be held responsible.
Steve Moriarty has been a leader in the South Australian Lobster
industry for many years. He has come, like many of us, up through
the ranks from a fisherman working for years in the Northern Zone
Rock Lobster industry to a processor and exporter of lobster. It
would be fair to say he devoted or spent his life in one way or
another in this sector. To disregard his opinions would be idiotic.
Steve is also the President of the Northern Zone Rock Lobster
Association and I was able to corner him for a while, to get the
"run down" on the fishery. Regardless of who one talks to,
everybody has a different slant; everybody has a different opinion
and that is just part of most fisheries.
But to say it blatantly, Steve is angry and pissed off with the
system and fishery's science, which seems to be the opinion of
many I spoke with. I have never fished for lobster, so I am ignorant
as to what's going on, but I do listen carefully to the many friends
I have in the fishery.
The South Australian Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishing
Association (SANZRLFA), like other lobster fisheries in southern
Australia, is facing a crisis of confidence due to a gap of knowledge
concerning the lobster biomass and recruitment trends. West
Australian, South Australian and Tasmanian lobster fisheries are
going through the stress of severe quota reductions after years of
apparent good health. Steve tells me that he believes that a loss of
some years of vital juvenile recruitment due to factors beyond our
understanding has floored our confidence in our ability to predict
biomass and set quota levels to maintain sustainable stocks.
Clearly an overhaul of our science and understanding of the
human factors that influence quota regimes is needed. I value
Steve's opinions as I do not know about the industry, but looking
from the outside it is a typical example that spurious science and
slapdash management has failed industry once again.
The South Australian lobster fishing is managed by a
partnership between industry managers in Primary Industry
Resources South Australia (PIRSA). Total Allowable Catch (TACC)
levels are set by analysing fishery data collected by fishermen to
measure unit effort and pre- recruitment. Puerulus settlement
information is gathered from collector sites in the Northern Zone.
The industry is governed by performance indicators detailed in
a management plan supplied by PIRSA. Management of the fishery
commenced in 1968 and quotas were set in 2003 at 625 tonnes. In
2004 the quota was reduced again to 520 tonnes and in 2008 again
reduced to 470 tonnes. This year the fisheries minister and PIRSA
have dropped the quota to 310 tonnes and plan to lower it again
to 250 tonnes for 2010.
I personally thought for many years that quota management in
any fishery is the right way to go as long as it is strictly controlled.
Obviously in the case of the lobster industry something is going
astray or the science is missing.
South Australia has a new Director of Fisheries in Martin
Smallridge. I welcome him to the job. Martin has been around for
a long time and will be a good addition to the PIRSA team. Many
in the South Australian fishing industry believe the change was
We also have a new Minister of Fisheries in South Australia, The
Hon. Paul Caica. I know this minister well -- if anyone can get it
right, he will. He is the right man to take the South Australian
fishing industry to the next level. I am sure he will do everything
possible to help industry back on to an even keel.
However, fishermen feel right now that lowering the catch to
near starvation levels for commercial operators will be a quick fix
for the resource, but surely consideration should be given to
fishermen and their vital role as resource gatherers and what they
have contributed to the wellbeing of the general community in
South Australia. They believe that the lobster resource is owned by
the people of South Australia.
The fishers own a licence with fees of approximately $20,000
each per annum paid to the government. They are charged with
turning this renewable resource into export dollars which flood in
to our communities through service provisions, enriching us all in
this state. The flow-on jobs after catching are considerable and
need to be taken into consideration in the future when
management decisions are being made. At present there seems to
be a mindset that the state is happy to reap the rewards of their
efforts in the good times but is happy to treat industry as mere
"collateral damage" during more challenging times.
The lobster industry has voluntarily cut away large slices of its
business assets via quota reductions to balance its take from the
theoretical resource. I have said time and time again that, in a
pure sense, the fishermen are the real conservationists of our
marine environment. It is hard to find a greenie who has made
equivalent sacrifices for a balanced environment -- and without
needing the "high ground" moral rhetoric employed by our
diligent environmentalists. We are all green -- some act and
make it happen, others just talk. It sounds harsh, but the
government's drastic quota cuts smack of a fair-weather friend to
industry who finds fault with industry when the science fails.
Apparently, recent ministerial media announcements begin with
"due to overfishing the lobster quota will be slashed to...". I
have to say, it is a very unfortunate selection of words. We
wonder why the lobster industry gets nervous with the system,
especially when fishermen are trying their damnedest to make
Statements like those above clearly position fishermen as
irresponsible and greedy, establishing them as a group that the
government can save the rest of us from, which of course is
absolute nonsense. It is government's and PIRSA's duty to do their
best and manage the lobster industry for the best outcomes
possible. Surely government's basic concept is to govern for the
common good of all. Heavy-handed quota reductions without
licence fee relief or other measures suggested by industry speaks
more of the end justifies the means.
Steve Moriarty tells me that many so-called bluebloods, who
have money to burn, have recreational lobster pot licences to get a
feed. I find it absolutely ridiculous that at a time when industry
goes through some readjustment, recreational licences can still
catch four percent of the lobster take, especially when
professionals are under financial stress due to cuts.
Government and industry have a combined responsibility to
balance sustainable fisheries and a viable catching sector as part
and parcel of the obligation to extract protein from the marine
environment for human consumption, regardless of whether
it is industrial fishing or for high class specialised seafood. It
hurts me to say it... our government is starting to get a few
matters wrong! One such is the allocation of 43 percent of our
state's waters to marine parks to be administered by the
Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH). It is a
department with no experience of marine management, bloated
by a group of negative bureaucrats who use environmental fear
to bolster their own moral capital at the expense of working
members of the industry.
Our fisheries minister, the Hon. Paul Caica is a man we can rely
on. Industry has to help him find a way through the troubled
waters before us. I am sure he will.
A column of personal opinion by one of Australia's leading
fishing industry entrepreneurs. Hagen Stehr AO of Port Lincoln.
December 2009 AUSMARINE
The South Australian
Northern Rock Lobster Zone fiasco
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